By Julie B. Connerley
Staff Writer, The Islander
Since their first fundraising 5-K run on Pensacola Beach in 1987, the Island’s Capt’n Fun Runners have raised thousands of dollars for charitable causes.
The 2004 Bushwacker 5-K, held in conjunction with the annual Bushwacker Festival last Saturday, has again set a new record for participants – 1440.
So, what is it that makes the Bushwacker 5-K so special? The course location, the race organization, and of course, the party afterwards.
More than 150 Capt’n Fun Runners volunteer to coordinate every aspect of the event from registration, course workers, transportation (to start line), timers, and awards, to post-race refreshments.
It is one thing to host a well-run (pardon the pun) event, but when one adds the over-the-top fun-loving party antics of the Capt’n Fun Runners, even run-weary participants get into the mood!
Fun Runner volunteers (whose race shirt is always a different color than the participants) pay $5 to offset costs associated with the annual fundraiser. Their race day “last minute reminders” from Capt’n Fun himself, Island resident, Glenn Windham included the call for more “dancing fools and foolettes” to inspire the crowd at the Quietwater Boardwalk band shell.
In addition to wearing their volunteer shirts, other festive dress and crazy hats were encouraged. “Last year we had some innovative and creative costumes. The creative side of this group is awesome,” said Windham. “Tropical and Island themes brighten things up. After all, this is a Beach event!”
This year’s youngest competitor was seven-year-old Sam Covell, of Gulf Breeze, and competing in his fourth Bushwacker 5-K was this year’s oldest race walker, Cy Buchert, 82, of Covington, Louisiana.
Buchert, and his wife, Millie, 82, have been married 60 years and both are senior Olympics Hall of Famers! “This is a wonderful 5-K and the weather was perfect,” said Buchert.
Feeding more than 1400 people would seem daunting, but food coordinator, Denice Hair and her food committee of 24 Fun Runners, have that function down to a science.
“We ask all the Capt’n Fun Runners to bring finger foods,” Hair began, “and we have some really great businesses which also contribute to the event.”
This year’s food sponsors included Albertson’s on 9 th Avenue, Apple Market on Scenic Highway, Bagelheads, Pensacola Beach, Bruno’s of Gulf Breeze, Damians of Pensacola, Domino’s Pizza, Gulf Breeze, Wal-Mart on Mobile Highway, and Winn-Dixie, Nine-Mile Road.
Additionally, long-time race supporter, Walt Graham, a Birmingham food distributor, brought his usual “truckload” of cookies for the charity event.
“We are also grateful for the yearly food contributions of Jubilee Restaurant and the Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge, which always loans us tables for the massive amounts of food we collect,” said Hair.
Of course, support comes in many forms besides food. Notably, Paul Epstein, owner of Running Wild, is one of several runners, who like fellow businessman and runner, Walt Graham, help defray some of the costs associated with such a large event.
Longtime local run announcers, Susi Lyon of Seville Quarter, and Don McCloskey of the Naval Air Station, emceed the awards ceremony at the band shell during a break from the Capt’n Fun Runners “official party band,” Main Street.
Overall 5-K male winner was Michael Padilla, 19, of Pensacola with a finish time of 15:30. The 3.1-mile course began in Gulf Breeze, winding through residential neighborhoods, over the Bob Sikes Bridge and ended near the Visitors Information Center on Pensacola Beach. Padilla broke his record-winning time from 2003 by 11 seconds.
Anna Greslovich, 17, of Pensacola was the overall female winner. Greslovich’s winning time of 18:25 was only eight seconds slower than the course record set in 2001.
The annual fundraiser’s only wheelchair competitor in 2003, Mackey Tyndall, was an inspiration to everyone. His efforts in a standard, non-racing chair was quite a feat.
Capt’n Fun Runners and others in the local running community, held several fundraising events last fall and collected $1900 for the purchase of a running chair for Mackey.
In a twist of fate, Mackey’s new chair had a problem (though it is still under warranty) and was not ready for the 2004 Bushwacker 5-K.
However, that didn’t stop Mackey, 48, from participating again, in his standard wheelchair. His winning time of 39:16 bettered his old record by 6 minutes 45 seconds.
Everyone who completes a 5-K run is a winner, as is the run’s beneficiary, Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“We raised $5,260 for the organization in 2003,” said Windham. “With the increased number of participants this year, we are expecting to set a new record for funds raised in 2004.”
The Bushwacker Festival is now history with thousands taking home memories of great, free music and delicious creamy, cold specialty drinks for which the festival is named.
The Bushwacker 5-K continues to make history with the enormous contribution the annual event brings to Island businesses, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and of course, the Capt’n Fun Runners themselves.